The White arkitekter and Sprunt-designed Southend Pier Cultural Centre is now open to the public. Officially completed a few weeks ago, the 350 sq m public facility is located at the end of the world’s longest pleasure pier which is classified as a Grade II structure. Due to the delicate nature of the 100-year-old cast iron pilings supporting the pier, construction of the Southend Pier Cultural Centre had to be approached with caution.
As a result, structural engineers Price and & Myers and building contractor Kier Construction devised a plan to construct the building at Tilbury Docks in Essex and transport it along the Thames by barge. After being moored off the pier overnight, the 170-tonne mass was lifted at high tide by a 400-tonne marine sheer leg crane into place, connected to the crane at only four points. In order to avoid any damage to the pier’s cast iron piles, the cultural centre was lowered onto its foundations at the rate of 2mm a minute.
Speaking on the astonishing feat of engineering, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s executive councillor for Culture and Tourism, Derek Jarvis, said: “I am thrilled to bits that the Cultural Centre lift went so well. It was a really delicate operation and so much was at stake, particularly as we had never been involved in anything like this before. We were concerned about the weather initially but the conditions stayed mild and the whole life went like clockwork.”
After the building’s shell had been lowered into position, work could begin on the external skin and fit out. The façade has been deliberately selected to interact with the building’s environment, the roof and wall panels constructed using insulated timber coated with a waterproof membrane, the walls clad in Glass Reinforced Plastic and the roof treated with a non-slip textured top coat to enable the Turnstone birds which often build their nests on the pier to continue in their routine. Green-tinted glass has also been installed to limit the chances of birds flying into the building.
Many of the UK’s piers are littered with aging amusement arcades and rusting street furniture however Southend-on-Sea Borough Council embarked on this project to differentiate its public pier from the host of others across the country, giving the 1.34-mile stretch back to the community.
The result is an angular, fairly-hued cultural centre encompassing a 40 sq m artists’ studio, café with outdoor terrace, ancillary accommodation including WCs and kitchen, and seating for 185 people. The intelligent selection of materials mean that the exterior of the centre shifts in colour during the day as it reflects the changing sky above and is transformed in the evening as it is illuminated from within.